As companies consider adding more customer service channels to provide a more efficient, productive service for their customers, they may find it tricky to earmark which channel options suit their business requirements.

The options available are just that: options. A business strategist can ascertain what elements will enhance processes and work effectively, contributing to the core business and desired outcomes of the implementation. The clients who interact with the company must be considered, too, in terms of what they need from interactions, and how they prefer to conduct those specific interactions. More often than not, the influence on the customer experience plays a key role in many of these decisions.

Each channel has benefits, but not all are necessary, depending on business requirements

Voice channel
Voice channel communication via agent to customer caters for many variables and options and can deal with a large volume of information in great detail. It relies on the ability of the agent to access information and to interact across the different channels, services and products. Staffing is the biggest cost contributor in the voice channel; depending on the efficiency of the contact centre, the cost can be between 60 – 80%.

Email and/or SMS
With email and/or SMS as a channel, agents are still used. The main consideration for e-mail as a channel is the volume and percentage of client interactions when compared with voice interactions. With e-mail and SMS, customer expectations can be met with immediate auto reply (acknowledgement of receipt) and in setting expectations on service level agreements (SLAs), reply templates, standard responses, insertion of pre-approved text (e.g. warranty vs. guarantee) contextual responses (standard responses containing client-specific data (“Your balance is ”) and more.

In a contact centre with voice and email channels, it’s possible to blend contacts from different channels to balance volumes and manage the SLAs while either reducing the staff complement or improving on SLAs. It also provides the option of switching between channels, so a positive response to an email or an SMS can trigger an automated outbound call.

Web-chat as a channel is useful for providing assistance to customers using a company’s website, so the company can offer the assistance of an agent to conclude a transaction. This could include requesting a call-back or quotation or even chatting to an agent for information not available on the website. This channel benefits from using the same reporting tools as deployed for voice channels.

Self-service channel
When agents are not used, self-service options may be introduced. For simple interactions or inquiries, a self-service channel can be more efficient than other channels, resulting in the benefit of an improved customer experience.
While the desired goal may be saving on costs or improving the experience, before deploying self-service options companies should consider if business services can be delivered without the assistance of an agent.
There must be a sufficient percentage of users to warrant the introduction of a self-service channel, and the channel must be capable of servicing their exact requirements in the most efficient way. Client security and privacy, access to data, the nature of the transactions and the ability to validate these, financial or other regulations – all play a role in determining whether or not self-service options will be suitable.

Tips for successful self-service deployment
Self-service options must be easy to access, navigate and able to successfully conclude interactions. They must be complete, preventing the need to engage through additional channels e.g. “I can get my balance, instalment, due date, and request for an increase in the balance in one interaction”. All-hours availability is key, and the channel must be integrated with other channels – so should the client switch to other channels the transaction must be carried forward without the need to start from scratch (i.e. identification, authentication and/or transactional).
Testing is essential – control groups must test and provide sufficient feedback, and address the issues and concerns. A controlled deployment should take place with services being released systematically, measuring the take-up, so that issues can be identified and corrected before releasing the next service.
There must be sufficient capacity to deal with the volumes from day one. It is always an option to trim back once a clearer understanding of volumes emerges, but it’s a lost opportunity to convince users if access is denied on the first attempt.

All channels must be monitored for performance, relevance and functionality on an ongoing basis to ensure that they perform optimally, as they function in a dynamic environment.

This article was first published by IT News Africa on 15 February 2017.